If you have a septic tank, but aren't too familiar with exactly how it works, then you might be pretty confused by some of the maintenance that is involved in keeping a septic tank running. For instance, why do you have to pay attention to what chemicals you flush down the toilet? Why are drain cleaners so dangerous?
To help you get a better idea of how your septic tank works, here is a brief introduction to the subject:
What does a septic tank do?
The gist of the septic filtration process is that your plumbing flows into the septic tank, where it settles into three separate layers.
- The middle layer is called the effluent, and it is basically dirty water.
- The top layer is called scum, and is full of fats and grease. Everything in this layer is less dense than water, which allows it to float on top.
- The bottom layer is the sludge, and is full of solids and dense materials. This is where solid waste is deposited.
Once your waste settles into these layers, biological materials in the sludge are broken down by bacteria. Unlike the bacteria that are associated with diseases and expired food, these forms of bacteria are actually extremely helpful. They convert the thick, heavy sludge into much lighter materials.
As new material-filled fluid flows into the septic tank, some effluent is pushed out in the opposite direction, often into a second tank. In the second chamber, more solid material is filtered out of the water, deposited, and slowly broken down. The fluid that leaves this tank is almost entirely free of solids, and is deposited in the leach field.
How can you protect your septic tank?
There are two keys to protecting and maintaining your septic tank.
First, you need to pay careful attention to what you flush. You don't want to put anything in your plumbing that will not break down in the septic tank, such as paper towels, diapers, or tampons. Toilet paper is alright, because it is actually meant to rapidly break down in water. Also avoid chemicals unless you know that they are safe for the bacteria in your septic tank. Drain cleaner is particularly dangerous, but you should abstain from using anything that is advertised as "bacteria killing."
Secondly, you need to keep an eye on the relative sizes of the different layers in your septic tank. If the scum or sludge layers get too big, then you will need to get the system cleaned out. Try to schedule inspections on a regular basis so that you can identify any potential problems long before they back up your system.
If you have any questions about your septic tank, contact a local specialist, such as Southern Sanitary Systems Inc., to discuss your concerns.